The sphere of American politics is supposed to be a place of bottomless cynicism, yet the existence of double standards is a constant source of outrage - genuine outrage - for both politicians and commentators. Any time someone on one side does something idiotic or utters some indefensible remark, the other side complains of an insufficient reaction. What if someone on our side had said that? There'd be calls for resignation!
President Trump relishes this line of reasoning. On Wednesday, to take the most recent example, he complained, via Twitter, about a music video in which the rapper Snoop Dogg points a toy gun at a clownish Trump look-alike. (He pulls the trigger, and a little flag protrudes from the gun: "Bang.") Trump: "Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!"
I interpret the phrase "jail time" as hyperbole, a term for general outrage. And I find it hard to disagree with his real point. It's a preposterous thing for a president to complain about, but true enough: A similar stunt involving an Obama look-alike would have drawn strident denunciations from Trump's noble despisers.
It's a double standard. They are everywhere in our society - and indeed in any human society.
Which is what makes grousing about them so irresistible to politicos and pundits of all ideological propensities. Recall, for example, Trump's suggestion to Fox's Bill O'Reilly that Vladimir Putin isn't so much worse than other world leaders, even American ones: "You think our country is so innocent?" Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to point out the muted response among his Republican colleagues. "Can you imagine if a Democrat had said that? Every one of these seats would be filled with people decrying that kind of moral equivalence." True. It was also true, as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., remarked around the same time, that if any Democratic president had disparaged the intelligence community the way Trump had, we would have heard "howls from the Republican side of the aisle."
Complaints about double standards are just as frequent on the right, and just as credible. When, for instance, Democratic Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (La.) made a nasty joke about Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass couldn't help noticing that Democrats, theretofore exercised about Trump's misogyny, didn't seem to mind. "Just imagine if a Republican Congressman said something like that about a Democratic woman?" Kass wrote."[Nancy] Pelosi would have much to say. And so would organizers of women's marches and anti-Trump women's political theater."
And when Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.) said in an interview that her "greatest desire" was to "lead (Trump) right into impeachment," conservative commentator Tyler O'Neil asked his readers to "imagine if a Republican had said the same thing in 2009, or if a Republican had said his or her 'greatest desire' was to get Obama impeached. That congressman or congresswoman would have been vilified as discourteous, angry, and racist. But when Waters does it to Trump? Crickets."
Well, crickets and Tyler O'Neil. And a fair number of high-traffic conservative websites.
Alerting the world to the existence of double standards is so easy, and so much fun - easy because the double standards are usually obvious and real; fun because you can put a finger in the eye of your adversaries without bothering to defend or advance your own view. But if the double standards are everywhere, it follows that we're all more or less guilty of perpetuating them.
Which, inevitably, we are. Double standards are an ordinary part of human behavior and experience. You interpret a passing remark by your mother much differently from the way you interpret the same remark when it's spoken by that creepy neighbor who lets his dogs roam the neighborhood. Just so, when a politician of whom you approve says something strange or offensive, you construe it in the best possible light; whereas when another, whom you dislike, says something equally strange or offensive, you assume the most uncharitable meaning.
And you're not always wrong. You like and dislike politicians - and people in general - for a thousand different reasons, many of them valid, and you don't expect others to adopt precisely your criteria.
Now just imagine if someone criticized your every use of a double standard. Jail time!
Barton Swaim is author of "The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics" and a contributing columnist for The Post.